In a World Series Game 2 with an endless parade of pitchers, Rays top Dodgers to even things up

The Rays have perfected the model largely because, with one of the game’s smallest payrolls, they have to. The Dodgers, with a payroll near three times that of the Rays, adopted it when Andrew Friedman joined them — from Tampa Bay, as it happens — to lead their front office in 2014.

Throughout Wednesday night’s Game 2 of the World Series at Globe Life Field — a 6-4 win for Tampa Bay, which knotted the series at a game apiece — the Rays and Dodgers surely recognized their own philosophies in the many pitching moves of the other. But anyone who has watched baseball for more than the past few years would have walked away, assuming they could stay awake until the end, scratching their heads.

Welcome to baseball in 2020, when bullpen is a verb, a seven-inning start is a unicorn, and the managers wear out their spikes — and their pedometers — walking back and forth from their dugouts to the mound.

This is now a sport in which a pitcher working on a nine-strikeout no-hitter in the fifth inning, as Rays lefty Blake Snell was Wednesday night, fails to see a minute of the sixth. It’s a sport in which the Dodgers bring in their sixth pitcher of the night — as many as the 1989 Oakland A’s used in their entire World Series sweep of the San Francisco Giants — in the seventh inning.

In the end, the Rays prevailed largely because second baseman Brandon Lowe, a University of Maryland product who carried a .107 batting average and .161 slugging percentage this postseason into the game, homered twice — validating the faith Manager Kevin Cash showed by continuing to bat Lowe in the No. 2 spot in the Rays’ order.

“He’s shown over time that he’s a really good hitter, a really good player,” Cash said of Lowe. “And sometimes, you’ve got to allow them to go through some rough patches. And he was in one.”

For a change, the Rays, who have scored a staggering 72 percent of their runs this postseason on homers, scored an equal number on non-homers — two of them coming on Joey Wendle’s crucial, two-run double in fourth.

They also prevailed because their pitching moves mostly worked, or at least failed less egregiously than those of the Dodgers. Leading 6-2 heading into the bottom of the sixth, the Rays allowed the Dodgers to chip away at their lead. In the eighth, Corey Seager’s towering homer to straightaway center off right-hander Pete Fairbanks drew them within 6-4 and energized a socially distanced, heavily pro-Dodgers crowd of 11,472.

The homer was Seager’s seventh this postseason, tying Tampa Bay’s Randy Arozarena for the major league lead and moving within one of Barry Bonds (2002), Carlos Beltran (2004) and Nelson Cruz (2011) for the all-time lead. (This postseason, of course, is also the biggest and longest in baseball history, with 16 teams and four rounds.)

The Dodgers would bring the potential tying run to the plate with nobody out in the eighth, but Max Muncy flied out and Will Smith lined out — both off Fairbanks — and lefty Aaron Loup entered and struck out Cody Bellinger to end the inning. Loup also collected the first two outs of the ninth, but was not permitted to get the last one. The bullpen gate opened one last time, and in came right-hander Diego Castillo, the night’s 12th pitcher, for the one-out save.

Snell’s dastardly slider gave the Dodgers fits for most of the night, accounting for five of his nine strikeouts on the night. He appeared well on his way to a long, dominant outing, as the Dodgers were still without a hit when the fifth inning started — until Chris Taylor blasted a hanging curveball to right for a two-out, two-run homer, trimming the Rays’ lead to 5-2.

When the next two batters also reached base, Cash popped out of his dugout to yank him — a sight to which Snell reacted with a visible look of disgust. It wasn’t the first time this postseason Snell has appeared miffed at an early hook.

Snell, of all people, should know by now that’s just how the Rays operate. It’s nothing personal. Wednesday night’s quick hook allowed the Rays to extend a dubious streak: no Tampa Bay starting pitcher has pitched beyond the sixth inning in this entire postseason. And Snell extended another of his own: he hasn’t been left in a game to complete six innings since July 21, 2019, spanning 21 starts, regular- and postseason combined.

“I know I have to do things better,” Snell said. “I have to make it harder for him to come out and get me. I made it easy for him with the walks.”

But at least the Rays’ move worked, with bullpen ace Nick Anderson entering and striking out Justin Turner to end the Dodgers’ threat. The same could rarely be said for the Dodgers’ own moves.

For all their talent and financial might, the Dodgers came into this postseason lacking five true starting pitchers they trusted to take regular turns in a rotation — which is how they came to deploy quasi-starters Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May and Julio Urias as starter/opener/reliever hybrids. And when they got stretched to seven games by the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS, they had to deploy all three of them in Game 7, thus leaving themselves thin for Game 2 of the World Series.

And so, their strategy was to bullpen their way through Game 2.

Gonsolin, the opener, faced just six batters, before giving way to Dylan Floro, who faced three, then lefty Victor Gonzalez (four), then May (eight), then Joe Kelly (five). Alex Wood was the Dodgers’ workhorse, facing a total of nine batters and collecting six outs.

It was Gonsolin who gave up Lowe’s first homer, and May who gave up his second. Both Dodgers pitchers are rookies who were used primarily as starters this season, but who now are being asked to pitch in unconventional roles. Both were on two days’ rest, following their stints in Game 7 of the NLCS.

“It’s been a learning experience to me, doing new things,” Gonsolin said.

“It’s a big ask, to be quite frank,” Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts said. “ … Yeah, these guys are in unchartered territory. They’re not making excuses. They expect to make pitches. It’s different, certainly. But we still need those guys to get important outs for us moving forward.”

Game 3 on Friday night could bring a temporary halt to the incessant parade of bullpen moves, with the Dodgers starting Walker Buehler, who went six innings in beating the Braves in Game 6 of the NLCS, and the Rays countering with veteran right-hander Charlie Morton, who went 5 2/3 innings in beating the Houston Astros in Game 7 of the ALCS. These days, six innings is the new eight.

But Game 4 has the potential to be another long slog of bullpenning. The Dodgers will start Urias, who was last seen closing out Game 7 with three shutout innings. The Rays’ pitching plans are TBD. Or more accurately: TBD, TBD, TBD, TBD, TBD, TBD and — depending on how the other TBDs perform — TBD.

Dave Sheinin reported this story from Arlington, Tex. The live updates below were reported by Scott Allen from Washington.

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October 21, 2020 at 11:54 PM EDT

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Rays close out Dodgers in ninth, even series with 6-4 win in Game 2

By Scott Allen

Aaron Loup, who struck out Cody Bellinger for the final out of the eighth inning, remained on the mound for the Rays to open the ninth. He struck out Edwin Rios looking with a nasty curveball to begin the frame before pinch-hitter Austin Barnes flied out to left.

Rays Manager Kevin Cash called upon Diego Castillo to record the final out and the right-hander delivered, getting Chris Taylor, who homered earlier in the game, to strike out. Castillo’s third save of the postseason evened the series at one game apiece.

October 21, 2020 at 11:30 PM EDT

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Rays take two-run lead into the ninth

By Scott Allen

Aaroun Loup struck out Cody Bellinger looking with a 94 mph sinker on a 2-2 pitch to strand Justin Turner on second base and preserve Tampa Bay’s two-run lead. The Rays are three outs away from evening the series at one game apiece.

October 21, 2020 at 11:25 PM EDT

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Dodgers trim Rays’ lead to 6-4 on Corey Seager’s solo homer in the eighth

By Scott Allen

Corey Seager led off the bottom of the eight inning with his seventh home run of the postseason, trimming the Rays’ lead to 6-4.

Justin Turner followed with a double off Peter Fairbanks that fell between right fielder Manuel Margot and center fielder Kevin Kiermaier before Max Muncy flied out to right and Will Smith hit a line drive directly at third baseman Joey Wendle. With two outs, Rays Manager Kevin Cash summoned lefty Aaron Loup from the bullpen to face Cody Bellinger.

October 21, 2020 at 11:02 PM EDT

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Rays and Dodgers head to the eighth with Tampa Bay leading, 6-3

By Scott Allen

After Dodgers reliever Alex Wood worked around a one-out single by Yandy Díaz and an intentional walk to Randy Arozarena to strand two in the top of the seventh inning, Peter Fairbanks took the mound for the Rays in the bottom of the frame. The right-hander retired the side in order on six pitches to preserve Tampa Bay’s 6-3 lead.

October 21, 2020 at 10:44 PM EDT

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Dodgers cut Rays’ lead to 6-3 on Will Smith’s solo homer in the sixth

By Scott Allen

Catcher Will Smith got a run back for the Dodgers in the bottom of the sixth with a solo home run to left field off Nick Anderson. A fan caught the ball before throwing his glove on the field in celebration. Rays left fielder Randy Arozarena was kind enough to return it.

October 21, 2020 at 10:36 PM EDT

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Rays extend lead to 6-2 with sacrifice fly in the sixth inning

By Scott Allen

Joe Kelly, the Dodgers’ fifth pitcher of the game, came on to start the sixth inning and allowed consecutive singles to Ji-Man Choi and Manuel Margot. With runners on first and third, Joey Wendle followed with a sacrifice fly to left field to push the Rays’ lead to 6-2. Kelly, who pitched the ninth inning of Game 1, struck out Willy Adames and Kevin Kiermaier to end the inning.

October 21, 2020 at 10:22 PM EDT

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Dodgers chase Blake Snell, trail Rays 5-2 after five innings

By Scott Allen

After Chris Taylor’s two-run homer put the Dodgers on the board, a walk by Mookie Betts and a single by Corey Seager spelled the end of Blake Snell’s night. Right-handed reliever Nick Anderson got Justin Turner to strike out swinging to end the threat.

October 21, 2020 at 10:12 PM EDT

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Dodgers’ first hit, a home run by Chris Taylor, cuts Rays’ lead to 5-2

By Scott Allen

After matching his playoff career high with his ninth strikeout for the second out of the fifth inning, Blake Snell issued his third walk of the game, to Kiké Hernández. Chris Taylor followed with the Dodgers’ first hit, a two-run homer to right field that cut the Rays’ lead to 5-2.

The Dodgers now have 45 two-out RBI this postseason, one shy of the single-season playoff record set by the 2004 Boston Red Sox, according to Fox.

October 21, 2020 at 9:59 PM EDT

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Brandon Lowe’s second homer of the game gives the Rays a 5-0 lead in the fifth

By Scott Allen

With Austin Meadows on first base after a two-out single in the fifth, Brandon Lowe hit an opposite field home run off Dustin May to extend the Rays’ lead to 5-0. Lowe’s homer, which bounced off the top of the wall, was his second of the game. Lowe was 0-for-4 in Game 1 and came into Wednesday’s game hitting .107 in the postseason.

October 21, 2020 at 9:47 PM EDT

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Rays lead 3-0 after four innings, as Blake Snell has yet to allow a hit

By Scott Allen

Fox’s Joe Buck noted that Rays starter Blake Snell has been dominant in the first three innings (1.02 ERA) and struggled in the fourth inning and beyond (7.02 ERA) this season. He pitched a perfect fourth tonight, ending the frame with consecutive strikeouts to bring his total in the game to eight. Snell has walked two, but he has yet to allow a hit.

October 21, 2020 at 9:35 PM EDT

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Rays extend lead to 3-0 in fourth inning on a Joey Wendle double

By Scott Allen

Make it four pitchers in four innings for the Dodgers after Dustin May relieved Victor González with two outs and Ji-Man Choi on first base after reaching on a fielder’s choice.

May allowed a single by Manuel Margot, who beat the Dodgers’ defensive shift with a grounder into right field, before Joey Wendle doubled into the right-center field gap to score two and extend the Tampa Bay lead to 3-0.

October 21, 2020 at 9:18 PM EDT

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With Dodgers on their third pitcher, Rays take 1-0 lead into the fourth

By Scott Allen

Dylan Floro retired the first two batters in the top of the third before Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts went to his bullpen for a second time. Victor Gonzalez got Austin Meadows to pop out to shallow left field on his first pitch.

Blake Snell retired the Dodgers in order on 12 pitches in the bottom of the frame, which included his fifth and sixth strikeouts of the game. Snell has yet to allow a hit.

October 21, 2020 at 9:01 PM EDT

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Rays’ Blake Snell works out of trouble in the second

By Scott Allen

Max Muncy led off the bottom of the second inning with a walk, extending his on-base streak to 12 games. After striking out Will Smith, Blake Snell walked Cody Bellinger to put two runners on for A.J. Pollock, who popped out to first base. Snell, who walked a season-high four batters in his last outing, got out of the jam by striking out Kiké Hernández on a high slider, his 30th pitch of the game.

October 21, 2020 at 8:44 PM EDT

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Dodgers go to the bullpen in the second inning, still trail 1-0

By Scott Allen

Manuel Margot walked to lead off the second inning, stole second and advanced to third on a deep flyout to center field by Joey Wendle. That was it for Los Angeles starter Tony Gonsolin, as Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts emerged from the dugout and summoned Dylan Floro from the bullpen to face Willy Adames. Against a drawn-in infield, Adames hit a sharp grounder to shortstop Corey Seager, who nailed Margot at home plate on a fielder’s choice. Adames was caught stealing to end the inning.

Gonsolin’s start was the shortest in a World Series since San Francisco’s Jake Peavy pitched 1 1/3 innings in Game 6 of the 2014 Fall Classic. Gonsolin’s brief appearance was by design, whereas Peavy gave up five runs to the Royals. The Dodgers used five pitchers in Game 7 of the NLCS. Expect them to use at least that many tonight.